Fedweek

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The final version of the annual DoD authorization bill (S-1605) that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate addresses several policies unique to employees of that department—the government’s largest—including potentially paving the way for ending a policy there elevating performance ratings above length of service in retention during RIFs.

The House originally moved to repeal that policy while the Senate favored only requiring that performance be “among” the RIF retention factors. The final version adopts the Senate language, leaving room for interpretation that federal unions believe may result in DoD keeping the policy unchanged.

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More definitely, the measure orders an end—although not until calendar year 2023—to a requirement for a standard two-year probationary period for newly hired employees there rather than the one year generally applying elsewhere.

That provision has been a focus of difference between federal employee management organizations and unions, with the former arguing that one year is not long enough to assess the performance of new employees in certain positions. The unions argue that one year is long enough and that an extended period leaves employees vulnerable for too long time to improper personnel decisions, since full appeal rights don’t begin until after that period is finished.

Both of those provisions, enacted at the initiative of congressional Republicans during the Obama administration, were seen at one time as a potential model for government-wide application.

The final version does not include Senate language to renew another special authority at DoD, to pay buyouts of up to $40,000 rather than the general $25,000 limit. That authority, which expired September 30, originally was enacted on grounds that the lower amount—in effect since buyouts first began in the 1990s—is no longer a sufficient incentive. That boost also had raised expectations that a larger figure eventually would apply government-wide.

The bill meanwhile would set new limits on the use of temporary and term employees and the use of personnel ceilings at DoD.

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